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PLTW School National Finalist in StellarXplorers

PLTW School National Finalist in StellarXplorers

Michelle Lowrey teaches PLTW Engineering at Graham High School in Graham, Texas. Michelle has earned credentials in Introduction to Engineering Design, Civil Engineering and Architecture, Principles of Engineering, and Aerospace Engineering. Michelle is also a TSA advisor, TARC advisor, and StellarXplorers director.

A team of students from Graham High School was among a select group of 10 teams nationwide to compete for the title of National Champion in the Air Force Association’s (AFA) StellarXplorers III National High School Space Competition in Colorado Springs, Colorado, earlier this year. Teams traveled all-expenses-paid to compete for the title of National Champion and bragging rights in this, the national deployment of AFA's newest STEM program.

The 10 National Finalist teams advanced through extremely competitive online qualifying rounds to earn the distinction of being National Finalists. They represented schools and other organizations from California, Colorado, Utah, and Alabama. Additionally, several teams from U.S. DoD Dependent Schools in Kaiserslautern (Germany) qualified. Each team was composed of two to six students and supported by a team director.

Teams designed satellite orbits, specified spacecraft components, and selected rocket boosters to meet a stringent set of mission requirements. At this year's National Finals Competition, teams competed to define a space system concept to meet a different, more difficult mission scenario. Included in the competition was a briefing from each team outlining their concept and why it would best meet the specified requirements.

The Graham High School team is composed of captain Connor Wolfe, Smith Graham, Jonah Qualls, Garrett Gatlin, and Nicolas Saunders, and I serve as team director. Early competition activities took place locally, including education and training to prepare the team, two practice rounds, and three online competition qualification rounds to identify top teams for the finals.

These students are the future of our nation. It was impressive to watch the way in which the team worked together to meet the challenges.

StellarXplorers, an education initiative established by AFA, is a one-of-a-kind space system competition designed to inspire students toward futures in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Program sponsors include the US Air Force STEM Program, Orbital ATK, Kratos Defense Company, Analytic Graphics, Inc., and the Space Foundation. For more information about StellarXplorers, visit

PLTW’s blog is intended to serve as a forum for ideas and perspectives from across our network. The opinions expressed are those of each guest author.